Gardner Company was riding high in early January. Company officials were counting down the days to their grand opening of the Eighth and Main Tower--the tallest building in the state--and had recently purchased the US Bank Plaza--the second tallest. The company was offering to build a new multi-modal transit facility beneath the US Bank Tower, then it was about to unveil its most ambitious project to date: something called City Center Plaza, including the subterranean transit center, a revitalized US Bank Plaza, a new building to serve as headquarters to Clearwater Analytics and still another building that will serve as a new convention, meeting and banquet destination for the Boise Centre.
Things were going just swell, but then the phone rang in the Boise office of Geoff Wardle, general counsel for Gardner Company.
"We found petroleum," Jon Kruck, project manager for Boise-based Materials Testing and Inspection, told Wardle.
Kruck should know oil when he sees it. He specializes in environmental investigations, remediation and health and safety issues for clients throughout the United States. Simply put, it's his job to test what's in the ground before construction equipment begins to move any dirt.
"I remember that day this past January pretty well," Kruck recalled. "It was the last hole we drilled for the day."
More than three months later, on April 21, Kruck stood before the Capital City Development Corporation Board of Commissioners. CCDC owns much of the Grove Plaza and is planning on donating the subterranean land to be used for the multi-modal transportation center. The donation from the CCDC would be Valley Regional Transit, another governmental entity, not Gardner Co.
More importantly, CCDC is serving as an integral go-between, lending more than $21 million--via bonds--to the Greater Boise Auditorium District to help fund the construction of one of the City Center Plaza buildings--the Center Building, which will host meetings and banquet facilities to complement the already-thriving Boise Centre.
But nobody will be turning any dirt at the Grove Plaza until the recently disclosed environmental problem is addressed.
"We struck oil," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who also serves as a CCDC commissioner.
Kruck told Bieter and his CCDC colleagues that from the 1940s through the early 1970s, a gas station stood near the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Main Street, where the US Bank Tower currently stands.
"And there was another gas station in this corner and at that corner," said Kruck, pointing to an historic map of the downtown core, where the Grove Plaza is currently located.
Here's the good news: Kruck says he knows how to clean it up. He told the CCDC Board of Commissioners that once the contaminated soil has been pulled out of the site, his team would inject what he called "an oxygen release compound" into the soil to enhance a more natural chemical mix.
"We're going to be digging all of that dirt up anyway," he said, referring to the massive subterranean excavation, which will be required to build the transit center.
"I've talked to the [Idaho] Department of Environmental Quality and they're concerned," said Kruck. "Some of this was discovered on the land around the bank building [owned by Gardner Company], but most of this was found on [CCDC] land."
And that's when CCDC commissioners were directed to a document buried deep in a 100-plus-page packet of memoranda and resolutions. There, they found an item called "environmental remediation."
"CCDC acknowledges that the Grove Plaza was previously utilized in a manner which may have resulted in the presence of Hazardous Materials in or about the Grove Plaza Subsurface Parcel," reads the document, which recommends CCDC fork over a maximum of $200,000 for costs incurred to clean up any hazardous materials, including removal, treatment, containment "or any other remedial action required by governmental authorities."
Kruck said his team had drilled 22 feet below the surface of the Grove Plaza before discovering the petroleum.
"And we don't know if there are any tanks down there," he cautioned.
That's why DEQ will require groundwater-monitoring wells be placed around the site once the entire City Center Plaza is finished.
"The DEQ typically looks for at least one year of groundwater monitoring," said Kruck.
That prompted Brian Ballard to step before the CCDC commissioners. Ballard is general counsel for Valley Regional Transit, which would operate the transit facility once Gardner's construction is complete.
"We're very comfortable with our discussions with Materials Testing and Inspection," said Ballard. "And based on what I heard today, we're comfortable with this solution."
But no one was questioning the seriousness of the discovery of unwelcome chemicals at the site of one of Boise's most anticipated construction projects.
"The levels of petroleum were above the screening level. It was above the cleanup level," said Kruck. "That's why we have to move it. The $200,000 cost is not so much about the digging. It's about the disposal."